New Avaya device takes on Cisco (Apple, too) in tablet war

Avaya is introducing a powerful Android-based touchscreen tablet that supports new communications software in a package to rival Cisco's recently announced Cius communications tablet.

Avaya is introducing a powerful Android-based touchscreen tablet that supports new communications software in a package to rival Cisco's recently announced Cius communications tablet.

Called Avaya Flare, the unit is mobile with a battery that supports hi-def video for three hours and can be tethered to a desk via a docking station..

Equipped with Avaya unified communications software with a new interface called Flare User Experience, the 11.6-inch tablet can be used to pull together ad hoc meetings, including hi-def conferences.

Members are drawn in from a Rolodex of contacts listed on the right of the screen and dragged into a spotlight at the center, representing the conference, says Nancy Maluso, vice president of Avaya's unified communications product marketing.Those dragged into the spotlight receive invitations via Avaya's backend SIP-based unified communications software anchored by its Aura communications server.

Because Flare is based on Android, applications can be written to it quickly or acquired from Android Market. Separately, customers can also use Avaya's ACE application development toolkit to customize communications apps on the Avaya UC platform that runs on the device, Maluso says.

Avaya says it is working on some of these, including an app to record conferences, real-time speech-to-text so participants can mute a conference but follow the conversation scrolling on the screen, and a listen-and-alert application that listens for mention of a participants name so they can jump back into a conference they have muted.

Cisco's Cius tablet is also based on Android and supports its unified communications and telepresence platforms. Announced in June, Cius is scheduled to ship next year. Flare is scheduled to ship in the middle of the fourth quarter this year, Avaya says, and the street price is expected to be about $US2,000. Cisco hasn't said yet what Cius costs.

While Apple's iPad doesn't support Flare User Experience, Avaya has catered to Apple products in the past, notably its one-X mobile client for iPhones, and support for iPads is a possibility, Maluso says.

The Flare User Experience software will be adapted over time to fit other devices such as iPhones and other smartphones, Maluso says. Some features of the Flare User Experience are available for certain touchscreen phones. Those features include conferencing, a display of who's in the conference and who's on mute, a mute flasher to let participants know if they're on mute and an instant-message sidebar.

Despite calling itself a software company, Avaya developed its own tablet because it wanted to support the high-quality video and audio the Avaya software platform is capable of, Maluso says. "There was nothing that could deliver it," she says.

As general purpose tablets improve, that could change, she says.

Flare includes an HD video camera, Harman Kardon speakers, speaker phone, HD display touchscreen, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It has an Ethernet jack for wired network connectivity and two USB ports that could be used, among other things, for an external keyboard or to support 3G or 4G cards to connect to broadband wireless services.

At launch, the device won't support VPNs but will in the spring, which will make the device more attractive for corporate remote access.

Avaya is also announcing a new software package that supplies all the software needed to support its collaboration platform on a single physical server. Called Collaboration Server, it includes Avaya's Session Manager, System Manager, Presence Manager and Communications Manager software. It supports 50 endpoints at a time and is scheduled to be available in February.

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